Universe 25 & The first death

I don't know about you. Death haunts me. The impermanence of almost everything perplexed me. When will we eventually die? What can possibly cause Omnicide?

Threatening life and evolution are the two deaths, death of the spirit and death of the body (Calhoun, 1973)

1. The second death - death of the body

Economics students might be familiar with the concept of Malthusian catastrophe. Thomas Malthus (1766 - 1834) addressed population problem in An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798):

“The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man" (Malthus, 1798)

According to Population theory, starvation would occur due to exponential population growth and arithmetic food supply growth. The poor majority will suffer and rebel causing human catastrophe.

Figure 1: Predicted Malthusian Catastrophe which was avoided by First Industrial Revolution (given courtesy of Bedir Tekinerdogan)

Irish Potato Famine (1845 - 1840) was the favorite example of Malthusian economists. Overpopulation, however, was only fraction of a bigger problem in Ireland. What lies under was the principal - agent problem between landlords and tenants. Farmers had little incentive to improve the land quality. In deteriorated land, only potato can survive. The dependence toward potatoes paved the way for Phytophthora infestans (a fungus-like eukaryot) to destroy Irish potato fields and more than 20% of Irish population.

Malthusianism, however, still hold its credibility until the first Industrial Revolution. Thomas Malthus failed to take into account technological factors in food production. Thanks to know - how in "seed breeding, soil nutrient replenishment, irrigation, mechanization and more", agricultural production can "stay well ahead of the population curve" (Sachs, 2008). Technological advancement in food production postponed the foresee Catastrophe.

Figure 2: World economic history and the escape from Malthusian Trap because of Industrial Revolutions (given courtesy of Bedir Tekinerdogan)

So will mankind ever vanish? Till now, economists are pretty happy with the answer "Not Yet". So that is? According to economics, technology can save our sinking boat. I am not entirely convinced.

2. The first death - death of the spirit

Industrial revolutions may postpone the physical death or "second death" of mankind. However, there is still the "first death" due to psychologically disruption. To proof "the first death", John B. Calhoun (1917 - 1995) set utopian environment for mice by eliminating five mortality factors: Emigration, Resource shortage, Inclement weather, Disease, and Predation. The only restriction is space:

A closed physical universe was formed by four 54 inch (1.37 m) high walls forming a square of side 101 inches (2.57 m). Although the walls were structured for use by mice to increase the effective use-area of the universe, the mice could not climb over the upper 17 inch (43 cm) unstructured portion of the galvanized metal walls. (Calhoun, 1973)

Photo: Yoichi R. Okamoto/Public Domain

In this ideal environment, Calhoun recorded 4-phrase catastrophe:

  • Phase A (Day 0 - 104) or Adjustment Phase: The first 8 mice adjusted to their new surroundings, marked their territory and began nesting.

  • Phase B (Day 105 - 315) or Exploitation Phase: Population doubled every 55 days.

  • Phase C (Day 315 - 560) or Stagnation Phase: "Behavior sink" took place. Most mice started to form preference and "favored the same few compartments". Those earned their spots in centre of the universe dubbed as "the alpha males". They became more aggressive and started to"roam around and indiscriminately rape other mice, regardless of gender". Meanwhile, the beta males "grew timid and inert". When territorial males "reject maturing associates", the females exposed to territorial defense and adopted more aggressive forms of behavior. The females later refrained from "motherly duties altogether, banishing their unraised litters and withdrawing from further mating" (Victor Pest)

  • Phase D (Day 560 - ) or Death Phase: The young in Phase C "were prematurely rejected by their mothers. They started independent life without having developed adequate affective bonds." The males soon become the 'beautiful ones".

They never engaged in sexual approaches toward females, and they never engaged in fighting, and so they had no wound or scar tissue. Thus their pelage remained in excellent condition. Their behavioural repertoire became largely confined to eating, drinking, sleeping and grooming, none of which carried any social implications beyond that represented by contiguity of bodies. (Calhoun, 1973)

Universe 25 was finally left with non-reproducing females and 'beautiful ones' (males) with terminated reproduction capacity. They eventually die out in Phase D.

Figure 3: History of population of mice in a closed Utopian universe

Source: Calhoun (1973)

In the end of this research, Calhoun conclude:

For an animal so complex as man, there is no logical reason why a comparable sequence of events should not also lead to species extinction. If opportunities for role fulfilment fall far short of the demand by those capable of filling roles, and having expectancies to do so, only violence and disruption of social organization can follow. Individuals born under these circumstances wilt be so out of touch with reality as to be incapable even of alienation. Their most-complex behaviours will become fragmented. Acquisition, creation and utilization of ideas appropriate for life in a post-industrial cultural-conceptual-technological society will have been blocked. Just as biological generativity in the mouse involves this species' most complex behaviours, so does ideational generativity for man. Loss of these respective complex behaviours means death of the species. (Calhoun, 1973)

I would pause here to comeback to human selves. Are you "the beautiful ones"? Am I? Are we?

The moment we "stop carrying any social implications beyond that represented by contiguity of bodies", we are heading to Universe 25. We have successfully escaped the external trap. Is there any protection for what from within? The answer lies upon us.


1. Sachs, J (2008), Are Malthus's Predicted 1798 Food Shortages Coming True? (Extended version), link: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-malthus-predicted-1798-food-shortages/

2. Calhoun, J. (1973), Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of a Mouse Population, link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1644264/pdf/procrsmed00338-0007.pdf

3. Victor Pest, What Humans Can Learn From Calhoun's Rodent Utopia, link: https://www.victorpest.com/articles/what-humans-can-learn-from-calhouns-rodent-utopia

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